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Cambodian Coup Leader Financed by Drug Traffickers, According to Western Anti-Drug Officials


August 1997

Western anti-narcotics officials charge that the de facto ruler of Cambodia, Hun Sen, is supported financially by suspected drug traffickers. Hun Sen carried out a successful coup d'etat against rival co-prime minister, Prince Norodom Ranariddh in July (Nate Thayer, "Drug Suspects Bankroll Cambodian Coup Leader," Washington Post, July 22, 1997, p. A1; Reuter, "Cambodia Rejects Drug-Trade Link Report," July 24, 1997; Associated Press, "New drug-money fear in Cambodia," Chicago Tribune, August 14, 1997, sec. 1, p. 7).

In recent years, Cambodia has quickly grown into a major smuggling point for Southeast Asian heroin, a significant exporter of marijuana and a major money laundering center. United States officials single out as a suspected drug-trafficker Theng Bunma, Cambodia's most powerful businessman and president of its Chamber of Commerce. In February 1994, then-U.S. Ambassador Charles Twining warned a Cambodian Cabinet Minister that Bunma was a drug-trafficker and requested that the government distance itself from the businessman. Bunma denies any such involvement.

The government of Cambodia denies any drug-trafficking involvement. According to the Secretary of State for Information, Khieu Kanharith, "The Royal Government of Cambodia has taken strong and firm measures to crack down on drug trafficking, as a result we arrested many drug traffickers." But Interpol documents claim that the volume of drugs originating in Cambodia that were seized by foreign law enforcement agencies grew by more than 1,000 percent from 1995 to 1996. U.S. State Department spokesperson Nicholas Burns said, "We think the Cambodian government can do a lot more to purge itself of obvious linkages between the government itself, members of government, and narcotraffickers."